Quelites (edible wild greens) are an important and versatile ingredient used in traditional Mexican cooking, even though they might not be known by many outside of Mexico. Read on to find out what Quelites are and how they are used in Mexican food!
What are Quelites?
Quelites (pronounced “keh-lee-tez”) are wild plants that are edible. They generally grow next to large crops that require a lot of irrigating, or next to rivers and streams. The name “Quelites” comes from the Nahuatl word quilitl, which means “edible plant or weed”. While there is a plant called quelite cenizo, it is only one of many species of wild plants that fall under the category of “quelites”. Some examples include Verdolaga (portulaca oleracea), Huauzontle, Papalo, Chaya (cnidoscolus aconitifolius), Epazote (dysphania ambrosioides), and Romerito (suaeda nigra).
Where do Quelites come from?
These Mexican wild edible plants are generally found growing next to crops of coffee, squash, and peppers, as well as next to corn fields. They are also easy to find near rivers or streams, and you can even find them growing out of the sidewalk during the rainy season. This is due to the fact that they can grow in a variety of climates, so long as there is enough water to help them grow.
Quelites are known to have been consumed since pre-Hispanic times, where they were used both for cooking as well as for medicinal purposes. Today, quelites continue to be used for cooking, particularly by people living in rural areas. For them, quelites are an invaluable part of their diet, providing it with important vitamins and minerals at a very low cost.
Where can you get Quelites?
You can find Quelites in most markets in Mexico, often in the stunning market stands filled all over with leaves, herbs, and plants (not all of them might fall into this category, but they are still sold in the same place). In the USA, you can find Quelites being sold at the Latin Stores in cities with large Mexican Populations.
The variety of quelites available at grocery stores is more limited, given the fact that they are a very low-cost product and there is not much profit in selling them. The only exception to this would be epazote and cilantro, which are very easy to find in most stores.
What do Quelites taste like?
Given that there are so many different species of wild greens, it is practically impossible to summarize them into one single flavor. However, you could say that their flavors are predominantly herbal in nature.
Additionally, since quelites are often cooked in combination with other ingredients like garlic, onion, peppers, and tomatoes, their flavors end up being more of a complement to whatever stew or protein they are being cooked with, as opposed to being the main flavor of the dish.
How long do Mexican Wild Greens last?
When you buy quelites in a market or grocery store, their shelf life will not be very long, as they are fresh plants that are meant to be consumed promptly. However, there are some varieties, like Pápalo, Cilantro, and Epazote, which can be dehydrated and then used afterward to season different dishes and give them some of their aromas.
How do you cook Quelites?
These plants can be prepared in a great number of ways. They are most commonly sautéed along with onions and garlic, and they can be eaten this way as a side dish or as a main meal. Mexican Wild greens can also be used as a component in a more robust dish, such as Pork with Purslane in Tomatillo Sauce. They can also be used in salads or as a garnish for tacos. They can also be added to a dish for their aroma, as is the case with Hoja Santa and Epazote.
Given the enormous variety of quelites available, there are countless ways in which they can be used in your cooking.